Light that dazzles, puzzles

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Light that dazzles, puzzles

“Catso,” an exhibition by James Turrell at the Paik Hae Young Gallery in Seoul, challenges viewers’ perceptions of what they see.
The artist uses light to complicate and explore the disparity between physicality and perception, how deceptive human eyes can be when it comes to using our vision as a source of evidence or to verify a fact.
Mr. Turrell’s ideas allude to the truths beyond our eyes. They raise questions about the way we see, asking, for example, how much control we have over what we see.
Is what we see always as it appears? Is it reliable evidence of truth? Do we believe without seeing?
“Catso,” one of Mr. Turrell’s earlier light works, is a simple projection of a light cube installed in the corner of a room surrounded by white walls.
The image on the wall is hypnotic in that it looks like a projection of a white cube on the wall at first. But as we stare at the image a little longer at standing height, which is how the work is meant to be viewed, the image starts to trigger other questions:
Is it a projection or a hole in the wall? Is it solid or on a plane? Is it a drawing or a sculpture?
Mr. Turrell’s experiments with light and space ― and human perception ― date to the 1960s, when he leased the old Mendota Hotel in California, using it as his studio.
In his “Mendota Series,” he used many rooms at the hotel to block natural light into the room, watched the forms that were made by the light that shone through the gaps between the windows and doors, and created geometrical shapes by casting light from a projector.
Later his project expanded to a monumental scale. He used an inactive volcano in the desert of northeastern Arizona as a giant receptacle for natural light.
“Roden Crater,” the giant landscape project, took over 30 years to complete, and it will open to the public next year.
What’s just as compelling as the artist’s installation in Seoul is the gallery, owned by a Korean collector, from which the creative space gets its name. It’s located on a residential hill in Hannam-dong, between the embassy residences of Belgium and Qatar.
The room for Mr. Turrell’s “Catso” ― which is from the personal collection of the museum director ― was specially designed for the installation, under the specific instructions of the artist.
The gallery, built on a remodeled embassy residence, still has the feel of a private home, and this creates the perfect atmosphere to appreciate Mr. Turrell’s work, which has a meditative quality.

by Park Soo-mee

“Catso” by James Turrell is on display at Paik Hae Young Gallery through Dec. 27.
Visitors are asked to make an appointment before arriving at the gallery.
For more information, call (02) 796-9347 or go to the gallery’s Web site at (minimal English available).
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